Nostalgic Fandoms Being Marketed to Our Kids Today

I’m coming off of a rousing build of LEGO Super Mario Adventures-Mario Starter Course and I can’t help but think, how did we get here? I thought becoming a mom meant I’d spend most of my time confused about new, strange toys I didn’t understand, but here I am, reliving my childhood, and my kids are begging me to do it!

Many of the toys being brought back nowadays are soaked in the nostalgia-inducing styles from the 80s and 90s-making adults like us feel right at home. Sometimes I find myself fighting the urge to stop my kids from touching their brand-new toys. “They’ll be worth a lot of money some day”, a phrase that pains a lot of my friends and family when we look back at toys we used to have. I wish I knew then what I know now, because we would all be rich. I can remember hearing the same things from my mom growing up, I hated it. From bell bottoms to crop tops, “I had that exact same outfit, I should have just saved all my clothes!” As a teenager it made my skin crawl, as an adult, I kind of get it-don’t tell my mom.

LEGO Super Mario Adventures

Usually we spend our time on Netflix or Disney+, commercial free programming prevents all those “Please mom!” conversations. Recently though, we were watching Treehouse with my youngest, chock-full of commercials for everything under the sun. Here I am watching my childhood flash before my eyes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Polly Pocket, Mario, Power Rangers… suddenly I was the one with a shopping itch.

Tonight was the LEGO. Everyone grew up with it, but it’s really gotten a few upgrades since we were kids. The Super Mario Adventures LEGO set is way too cool. Yes, I said that as excited and dorky as it sounded. We built the base set — a block style trail of green pipes, 2D clouds and coin bricks — affixed with all the bells and whistles that 2021 has to offer. A battery powered LEGO Mario interacts with small codes on the blocks, playing signature Super Mario sounds as you jump from block to block.

“We bought my son these LEGO sets at Christmas thinking it was a surefire way to get him working with his hands.”

Mario himself reacts when you place him on different colours, blue being water, green being grass, and red causing little X’s in Mario’s eyes from standing in lava. Technology managed to make my childhood memories come to life, and it’s really exciting to watch my son light up loving the next generation of toys I grew up with.

I do have to say I find some changes a little counterintuitive. We are constantly striving to push our kids to find creative ways to play. Screen free time, no tablets or phones or video games. We bought my son these LEGO sets at Christmas thinking it was a surefire way to get him working with his hands. Little did I know, when we went to start the set, it didn’t come with instructions the way our LEGO sets did as kids. Now it’s all on an app.

LEGO Super Mario Adventures

I realize I need to change with the times and I’m back to sounding like one of my parents, afraid of technology. More than anything I was annoyed that I’m constantly feeling like a bad mom for letting my children have too much screen time, so I went out of my way to push for some creative play, only to have to make sure the tablet was charged, so he could play with his LEGO. What world is this? Once it was complete, we set the tablet aside and just played, so it’s not all bad. Maybe I just need to change with the times.

Toy companies are doing something really smart with bringing back old stuff too though. You can market anything in a way that will make kids interested. The real trick is making the parent interested. If my children are asking me for two different toys, and I have the option between Blaze and The Monster Machines or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’m picking TMNT every time. Recreating the brands we grew up with ensures that we as parents are going to push our money in the right direction. It’s sneaky, and I kind of like it.

“Sure, they’ve found a way to exploit me, but you know what else they did? They’ve got me WANTING to play with my kid.”

Sure, they’ve found a way to exploit me, but you know what else they did? They’ve got me WANTING to play with my kid. I put my phone down tonight, I put my computer away, I stopped writing and working. I sat down with my son at his two-foot-tall LEGO table while he taught me everything he knows about Mario and Bowser Jr. I recall being scolded for not adding the Jr.-a mistake I won’t make again. He was so proud of everything he knew, and so happy that I was truly interested. Yes, we all feign interest when our kids want us to play, but he could tell that I was truly excited, and it showed on his face. So what if companies are bringing back old toys to get us to spend money? They’re creating real moments between us and our little ones.

Nintendo and LEGO aren’t the only ones jumping on the bandwagon. I was shopping this week, wandering childlessly through the toy section, and I saw so many toys I used to love. Some with a new twist, and some with the same old charm. Tamagotchis are back, they look exactly the same, and though my son is way too young for it, a large part of me wanted one for myself. Polly Pockets are back, and shockingly still tiny. I thought somehow they would make them bigger, safer for kids, but they are just like I remember and I love it. I remember catching my brother playing with my tree house Polly Pocket house once as a kid, he was a teenager and just messing around with it. I still tease him about it to this day. But here I am, in my 30s wanting my Polly Pocket back!

The fandom doesn’t end with toys either. When my son was a toddler we watched a ton of Bubble Guppies and Paw Patrol, not my favourite to say the least. Four years later, and we are watching some of the coolest stuff from my childhood. All my favourite characters are back and as popular as ever. Spider-man, Optimus Prime, Leonardo and the guys… and that’s just what my son has gotten into. We are still stuck on Bubble Guppies with my daughter, and a lot of Sesame street, but I am genuinely thrilled to see what pops up as she gets older. Our living room is filled with action figures, a combination of my sons and mine, and you really wouldn’t know whose is who’s.

I can recall feeling so disconnected from my parents growing up. They never knew what we were into and everything they liked was just SO uncool. I guess it’s possible that I’m not remembering far enough back into my childhood. Maybe when my kids are preteens and teens they’ll like things that are weird and scary to me too. Until then, I’m going to jump on board and try to appreciate these moments as they come. I’m not sure if I’m lucky that being a nerd has gone mainstream, or lucky to have kids that love my fandoms, or maybe they’re lucky to have a geeky mom, but whatever it is, I’m going to make sure to take it all in for as long as I can. These moments won’t last forever, and I don’t want to let a single one slip by.

Originally published at https://www.cgmagonline.com.

EIC at CGMagazine (@CGMagonline), Veteran of the field with more then 10 years experience. Also Publisher at Nuada Press.